In a city where the entertainment industry is anchored by live music, there’s hardly a subset of the community that works as tirelessly and strategically as booking agents and show promoters. Austin is home to approximately 250 live music venues with musicians playing everywhere from grocery stores to state of the art theaters. But, running the show entirely on their own is a luxury most musicians can’t afford.
Someone has to help organize events, coordinate logistics and advance shows in order to keep our live music scene thriving. And it’s near impossible to find a booking agent in ‘The Live Music Capital’ that can handle these duties with the class and gusto as Trish Connelly at Cheer Up Charlies.
As one of Austin’s top-notch music venues, the ‘ambiguous everybody space’ of Cheer Up Charlies (CUC) hosts everything from shoegaze and psych-rock to R&B and dream-pop on its two-stage real estate. And through her booking service, The Nothing Song, do-it-all Connelly plays a vital role in keeping CUC at the apex of Austin’s live music venues.
Booking dates, sourcing bands, promoting shows, all of that is her. That gig you can’t wait to catch at CUC next week – guarantee you probably heard about it because of Connelly. Her job duties seem never ending but she graciously tackles each one with world class courtesy and professionalism. Her motivation for staying on top of such a daunting job description boils down to wanting people to feel like CUC is a welcoming, safe and open space to enjoy a drink, catch great local and touring bands alike and always at a reasonable price or no cost. There’s no doubt Connelly sets the bar for live music booking in Austin.
So, it came as no surprise to see her presented with the 2017-18 Austin Music Awards’ “Live Music Booker of the Year” trophy. But, how did Connelly go from a full-time job tutoring middle-school children to becoming Austin’s #1 live music booker? We were lucky enough to catch the Cheer Up Charlies’ Superwoman and hear all about her journey.
– How did you first get involved in live music booking and how did that lead you to CUC and creating The Nothing Song?
I moved to Austin about six years ago and started going out to live shows and catching local acts essentially from day one. I was tutoring at a middle school full-time but wanted to get involved with music in some capacity, and the booking and promoting fields really struck a chord with me. I had more interest in organizing and putting together shows rather than joining a band, so I started talking with some musicians and friends about how I could get involved. I put on some small shows here and there and did a short run at Spider House Ballroom as an intern before Maggie Lea and Tamara Hoover at Cheer Up Charlies decided to open up a promotion position and asked if I would like to join their team. The spring of 2015 was when I had my first show under The Nothing Song, mainly as a means of having a recognizable name/brand to associate my shows with. My logo (a black cassette tape reel) stemmed from wanting to incorporate a tangible and DIY symbol to the events I put on.
– Do you remember the very first show you booked?
The very first show I booked was at an art gallery & comics shop, Guzu Gallery next to Austin Books and Comics. It was a free show that took place during SXSW 2014 with four acts — The Ex-Optimists, When the Word was Sound, ArcDream and The Governors. The very first show I put on at Cheer Up Charlies was later that summer with Machete Western, Phantom Fox, Ichi Ni San Shi and Bobby Halvorson.
– With everything you are tasked with, how do you stay so organized and responsive?
It can be a struggle for sure! I use an app (Wunderlist) on my computer to help me keep track of tasks for each show, no matter how small. Working from home and setting my own schedule means quite a bit of self-discipline and keeping focused on the tasks at hand. I like having a balance of a routine — both with tasks that I work on every day like getting back to emails, promoting material online, updating my social media pages and the Cheer Ups’ calendar, but also keeping an element of creativity along with it. Brainstorming potential lineups, working in elements of a theme, a benefit show or a variety of artists and the like help keep the creative juices flowing and keeps things from feeling stagnant. It’s a world away from my tutoring job where I had a set schedule and once I was done with my work day then I was done, but I’ll find myself working on a Friday night or Sunday morning since there’s always something extra to be done or an idea that may come to me at whatever hour it decides to strike.
– What did it mean to you to be awarded Austin’s ‘Live Music Booker of the Year’?
I don’t know if I felt more overwhelmed and honored to be awarded Austin’s Music Booker of the Year or to be nominated in the first place! I think anyone in the music business understands this field takes a lot of work and commitment — whether you’re a touring musician, booker, promoter, venue owner or otherwise. It feels really special to be recognized for the shows I put on, and really most of all to be recognized for doing something I love immensely. I see it as a sign that I’m hopefully doing something right, and it’s a huge honor and motivation to keep striving to always do better.
– I’m sure most have been great, but if you had to choose your top three experiences at CUC?
So many nights have stood out for a variety of reasons but my annual Luscious Heaven shows (as of three years ago) highlighting dream-pop and shoegaze bands have been a blast and have included headliners from outside of Texas to play the shows (Dead Leaf Echo from New York, LSD and the Search for God from San Francisco). I’m a big David Lynch fan and putting together a Twin Peaks party right before the premiere of the anticipated new season last May and having vendors and bands like Ringo Deathstarr and ANDY play inspired original music and themes from the show was incredible to see. Collaborating on a variety of artistic mediums for events has also been a highlight and getting to see different artistic communities integrate with each other. Last December we had a local film series called We Are which highlights the lives of seven women of color screen their episodes along with Keeper and Mélat performing afterwards which made for a really special night.
– Do you have a bucket list band to book at CUC?
I’m constantly listening to and researching both local bands as well as burgeoning bands from out of town or out of state — it’s a really exciting feeling stumbling across a newfound local act whose music I get swept away in right off the bat and I’m always excited to book bands like that and hopefully giving them their first stage or a spot to play at for their first tour if they’re from out of town. So I don’t know if I have any bucket list bands persay, but booking The Octopus Project or A Giant Dog would be a first for me!
– Anything in the works you are extra excited to see at CUC this year?
This month I’m really excited to see Carry Illinois’ EP Release Party on the 25th and the Name Sayers’ Album Release Party on the 26th. I’ve yet to see Palberta live but they’ll be on tour from NYC and playing at Cheer Ups on May 30th. I’m collaborating with The Cosmic Clash for an all female-identifying drummer lineup on June 15th and I’m working on a bill for mid-July with a band called Fringe Class from Portland that sound incredible. I’ve got a couple more things in the works for later on in the fall which is still a little hush hush but I’m looking forward to having it all coming together and announcing later this summer!
– Any major goals for 2018?
My underlying goal for 2018 is to continue to reach out to new bands and a diversity of voices as well as continue to integrate different artistic mediums into events. I also made it a New Years goal to start a record label — the process has been gradual what with researching and honing in on a vision for it but you can keep your ears and eyes peeled for that later this year.